Sunday, December 04, 2011

How I rust proofed my training

As indicated on my last few sparse posts, chess had taken a back seat as life challenges were my utmost top priority. Not that I am completely out of the woods, there is some clearing in my forest which has allowed be to jump in on a couple of recent one day events.

Back in September, I attended a one-day event in Rhodes Island where I ended up tied for first place. Since December 5th marks the 139th birthday of a famous Massachusetts player, the Harry Nelson Pillsbury Memorial was an event I could not miss. My score of 3.5 had me take home a clear second place winnings as well as bump my rating up over 1800 USCF for the first time in my life.

I hadn’t been studying seriously since July. I hadn’t been playing regularly since then either. So how did I manage to have a couple of good tournaments and not lose rating points? I’m not entirely sure but I think I can explain.

For years, especially if look through the archives of my blog, I struggled with inconsistent results. As with most class players, I had a fairly good base of chess knowledge. Meaning, I had some theoretical understand, tactical ability and some base of positional understanding. The problem was that I was caught up in REMEMBERING move orders for openings and positional concepts. I call it the “If he goes here I go there” stuff. This process relied heavily on my short term memory and I am like an old computer from last century with only limited access. If I had life events, most of my deep lines were popped off the stack. My long term recall was hindered as I didn’t have a good “filing system” as it was all related to lines of move orders instead of better mnemonics.

Let me elaborate a little. I am sure all of us have struggled with opening preparation from time to time. It’s probably safe to say that most of us can probably remember at least the first 4 moves in our repertoire comfortably but once the branching effects of the various responses occur, we start to fall into move order issues or place pieces on squares without much thought as to why for the sole reason that you may have recalled it being placed there in another line. For me, the problem was trying to rely on a move like “7…Nbd7” as a mnemonic.

The other aspect is that once you get thrown off your horse, while the clock is ticking, how do you evaluate the position that you got yourself into? Where my previous training was based on move order and Kotov’s “tree of analysis” , too much reliance still on short term memory which was problematic. I read reams of various methods from Nimzovitch to Silman and tigers and zebras. There was no silver bullet and I proceeded as best I could depending on which topical positional book I read recently.

Tabias and pawn formations:

About a year ago, I started to really concentrate on using a better mnemonic to recall positional ideas. I knew I could not get around SOME level of memorization for opening preparation. I made it a priority to at least get myself to the point where I could recall the main line tabias of each of my openings. What this means is following the main line to the first MAJOR branching point. It meant resisting the urge to memorize anything further.

Once I got the tabias for each of my openings, I then approached UNDERSTANGING them from the perspective of pawn formations. If you look at my side bar, I have links to some of these. I created mnemonics from the pawn formations and filed the effort into long term memory after much practice. I made it a habit of reaching an early position and saying to myself the type of pawn formation. It’s not a perfect process as some pawn formations are easier to retrieve than others due to frequency I encounter them and other aspects. But when I see an IQP position, I KNOW what I need to do. I understand the goals. When I reach an ADVANCED CENTRAL QUEEN PAWN Chain, I also know what needs to be done and the candidate moves present themselves.

This year, I want to advance my understanding this game and try to apply mnemonic training to recall complete games. Yes, entire games. I believe I can continue down this path and recall master games by naming them like Pillsbury Vs Tchigoran Hastings 1895. The mnemonic will recall the initial tabia of the opening, the fact that Pillsbury played an early Ne5 ( as white) and proceeded with a Kingside “Pillsbury attack” as Tchigoran countered with a Queenside attack. I am not there yet, but just those statements starting with the top folder and opening up the subsequent folders of the position I draw visions of the game and could actually place pieces on a board to show them. Top level players have that ability. They set the bar I wish to reach.

And now I leave you with a parody of Alice Cooper’s song “ I’m 18”

I’m 18(hundred)

Lines form from my openings

Lines form from my positions

I’ve reached 1800 but not that much faster

I’m not a novice and I’m not a master

I’m 1800 and I still want a higher rating

I’m 1800 and I wish I got “master discounts”

I’m 1800 and I am a Class A player

I’m 18 18 1800!!!

Stay tuned, I'll be doing a formal tournament report for the Pillsbury Memorial for Chess Horizons and will post here as well.


AoxomoxoA wondering said...

The software "chess hero" is created to learn games ( by heart ).
Some say that learning chessgames (of GM's) is very! beneficial.
I am very interested in your results!

Anonymous said...

Congrats George. Still trying to get rid of 20 years of rust myself. Rating is going down but enjoying highly complicated games. Have been following your blog for about 2 years and it helped in returning my interest in playing again. Thanks Cliff N

Unknown said...

Good post!

Robert Pearson said...

A great and practical post. I think this method of learning openings could be very useful and I may look to extend/expand the ideas in the near future.

James Stripes said...

Congrats on getting over 1800! A-Class players know something.

I've memorized a few entire games, then forgotten them after a month or so. Show me any position in the Evergreen Game, and chances are good that I can show you the next move, but to play through the whole game without prompts would require another fifteen minutes of preparation--I would need to go through the game three or four times in my database. Getting whole games into the short-term memory is not terribly difficult. Maintaining them in long-term memory requires something that I'm not doing. Looking forward to your insights.

DutchBird said...

Great post, very helpful, especially since I play most of these same openings. What are you playing as black against 1 d4? I play the Slav due to the C-K connection.